Talking Animals in British Children's Fiction, 1786–1914: 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Talking Animals in British Children's Fiction, 1786–1914

1st Edition

By Tess Cosslett


216 pages

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In her reappraisal of canonical works such as Black Beauty, Beautiful Joe, Wind in the Willows, and Peter Rabbit, Tess Cosslett traces how nineteenth-century debates about the human and animal intersected with, or left their mark on, the venerable genre of the animal story written for children. Effortlessly applying a range of critical approaches, from Bakhtinian ideas of the carnivalesque to feminist, postcolonial, and ecocritical theory, she raises important questions about the construction of the child reader, the qualifications of the implied author, and the possibilities of children's literature compared with literature written for adults. Perhaps most crucially, Cosslett examines how the issues of animal speech and animal subjectivity were managed, at a time when the possession of language and consciousness had become a vital sign of the difference between humans and animals. Topics of great contemporary concern, such as the relation of the human and the natural, masculine and feminine, child and adult, are investigated within their nineteenth-century contexts, making this an important book for nineteenth-century scholars, children's literature specialists, and historians of science and childhood.


'. . . adds to our understanding of both animal/human relationships and to children’s literature. With careful attention to historical context and insightful analyses of texts and images, Cosslett decodes the cultural message of animal stories from the eighteenth to the early twentieth centuries, tracing the impact of the creation of the modern "child," religion, Darwinism, and imperialism. Her book makes an important contribution to the current debate over 'anthropomorphism' as a way of advancing animal rights by showing how today's arguments were prefigured in texts such as Black Beauty, Beautiful Joe, Wind in the Willows, and Peter Rabbit.' Martin Danahay, Professor of English, Brock University 'Like all worthwhile literary history or criticism, Talking Animals's major premise reverberates well beyond its contribution to its stated focus, in this case examining the frequent appearances of talking animals in fiction designated as children's literature… relevant reading for anyone concerned with the continued evolution of the human-animal bond.' Anthrozoös ’Cosslett's attention to critically neglected literature makes this an illuminating and entertaining study.’ Journal of Victorian Culture ’… it is a book that discusses a lot of material that is too often neglected, treating it with welcome intelligence and sympathy.’ Children's Books History Society Newsletter ’… a meticulous study… Cosslett's scholarship and research is very solid… a valuable resource for scholars interested in early British children's literature, in talking animal stories, and in the historical and cultural context that contributed to the rise of the talking animal story.’ Children's Literature Association Quarterly ’… a significant contribution to the developing literature on animals in children's literature. We should look forward to Tess Cosslett producing a sequel.’ Journal of Children's Literature Studies

Table of Contents

Contents: Introduction; Animals in 18th-century children's books; Fabulous histories and papillonades; Animal autobiography; Parables and fairy-tales; Wild animal stories; Arcadias?; Afterword; Bibliography; Index.

About the Author

Tess Cosslett is Reader in Victorian Studies and Women's Writing at Lancaster University, UK. She has recently taken up an interest in children's literature, and teaches a course at Lancaster on the subject. She has published widely on literature and science, women's fiction and autobiography and children's literature.

About the Series

The Nineteenth Century Series

The Nineteenth Century Series

The Nineteenth Century Series aims to develop and promote new approaches and fresh directions in scholarship and criticism on nineteenth-century literature and culture. The series encourages work which erodes the traditional boundary between Romantic and Victorian studies and welcomes interdisciplinary approaches to the literary, religious, scientific and visual cultures of the period. While British literature and culture are the core subject matter of monographs and collections in the series,  the editors encourage proposals which explore the wider, international contexts of nineteenth-century literature – transatlantic, European and global.  Print culture, including studies in the newspaper and periodical press, book history, life writing and gender studies are particular strengths of this established series as are high quality single author studies.  The series also embraces research in the field of digital humanities. The editors invite proposals from both younger and established scholars in all areas of nineteenth-century literary studies. 

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
LITERARY CRITICISM / Comparative Literature